With the collaboration of the Technical Center for Aerospace in São Jose dos Campos, experiments in microgravity (weightlessness) are carried out by launching samples on space flights. Learn more about this.
Considering the growing importance of “life sciences” in global scientific and technological development, Biotechnology offers a broad field of research for chemical engineers. Biotechnological processes have become increasingly more important in the production of proteins, enzymes, hormones, vaccines, etc. all of which are economically vital to fine chemical sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry (human and animal health), food, cosmetics and the agroindustrial and environmental sectors.
Biotechnology research at FEI
The research professors from the Chemistry Department of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering – FEI, with collaboration from scholarship students from Scientific Initiation, have directed their attention to preparing professionals to perform in this field of activity and have been making studies on the use of enzymes as biological catalysers, instead of the usual chemical catalysers and in Processes of Enzyme Recuperation, as Extraction in two aqueous phases.
Studies of Microgravity
Within the scope of research in Biotechnology presented, experiments have been made in the field of microgravity, by launching samples on space flights. The interest in experiments made on space vehicles to test the effects of weightlessness in a wide variety of processes has been growing as a result of the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), planned to enter operation in 2002. This station will allow for lengthier experiments to be made in a weightless environment.
Microgravity means a new laboratory environment where cells and biomolecules, such as enzymes, can be studied for better understanding of basic phenomena. In microgravity, one of the advantages is the ordered growth of protein crystals, due to the elimination of the effects of convection. Three scientific experiments were made in microgravity with the participation of students from Scientific Initiation and all had a positive impact on the course of Chemical.
History of the missions involving our Engineering school
Scientific experiments carried by space vehicles are already a concrete reality at the University Center of FEI. These experiments, all of which are in the field of enzyme technology and result from close collaboration with the CTA (Technical Center for Aerospace), began in 1998 and are worthy of mention.
- On the 29th of October 1998 our Engineering Faculty became the first in Brazil to test national technology outside the stratosphere. The experiment concocted and coordinated by some of the specialists and researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering (Biotechnology Group) was taken on board the American space shuttle Discovery (NASA) and evaluated the effects of microgravity on hydrolysis of olive oil using the lipase enzyme, a product used widely in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
- As a curiosity, it is worth remembering that the famous astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the earth (1962) –at 77 years old, took part in this mission of the Discovery, one of the objectives of which was to study behavior of the elderly in space.
- On the 15th of March 1999, the Brazilian rocket VS-30, the São Marcos mission, left CLA with yet another of our experiments. This marked a new step in the project to immobilize lipase with a focus on how water, oil and tensoactive emulsions behave in microgravity.
- On the 6th of February 2000 another VS-30 was sent into space, the Lençois Maranhenses Mission, taking a fresh experiment to study enzyme kinetics of invertase, an enzyme which catalyses the hydrolysis of saccharose and enables a mixture of sugars formed of glucose and fructose to be obtained, which have superior sweetening power to that of saccharose and which do not easily crystallize.
- In this experiment conducted on board the VS-30 there was a DMLM, Device to Mix Liquids in Microgravity, a minilab designed and built by the Departments of Electrical, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering at FEI with the participation of students from the Scientific Initiation.
- On the 6th of December 2002, another VS-30, Operation Cumã was launched from CLA taking the DMLM with a new experiment from the Biotechnology Group. The project was selected by AEB, the Brazilian Space Agency, from several other universities, all public ones. Unfortunately there was a launch failure and the minilab could not be recovered.
- In the year of 2005 Operation Cumã 2 will be on board the VS-30 Xv07, another experiment from the University center of FEI, to be carried out in the DMLM II, the new version of the electronic device to mix liquids so as to continue the evaluation of enzyme kinetics of invertase in zero gravity.
- This experiment, approved and backed by the AEB, is part of a line of research in the area of enzyme technology, which is intended to develop the competencies needed to conduct Brazilian experiments on the International Space Station (ISS).